Tuesday, October 23, 2007

October Night

We are not yet at the solstice, not quite. Just off the beach a few October ducks are floating, early harbingers of the scoters that will raft up in their thousands as they gather to fly south. Harlequins and Barrow’s Goldeneye will winter along this coast, food for eagles during starvation months. For now, the eagles are fat from fish and exhausted from a summer of feeding voracious young. After months of keeping their hulking children in the nest, they have finally brought them into the open to teach them what they can, and send them on their way down the path of the sun.

Ravens have returned from their summer sojourn in the mountains to reclaim the beach from their intra-genus enemies the crows with belling calls and guttural squawks. Their young, like the eagles’, have scattered, and there is little for them to do than sit on a branch, bill and coo, play tricks on the local dogs, or patrol for scraps.

Steller’s sea lions porpoise along the shore feeding on the last of the silver salmon. They gather in every greater numbers at their favorite haul-outs, frolicking, fighting, barking, bellowing. They will remain all winter, impervious to the cold. In March, when the eulachon run, favored shoreline rocks will heave with hundreds of fat brown bodies as they rest from the labor of replenishing their reserves of fat. Then in the waxing light they will disperse for the summer, meeting only at the bell buoys where they jostle for position, sprawling under the clapper until disturbed by the next tour boat, which panics them into the water.

* * *

A few nights ago—or rather mornings, for winter constellations have only begun to climb the sky—at 4 AM there was a break in the seemingly endless procession of rain squalls. By some strange lensing of the atmosphere Orion and his train were magnified to blinding brightness. They seemed to leap from the blackness of infinite space, fiery silver orbs at once suspended and rushing towards earth. A hunter’s moon played hide and seek in the roiling clouds, sending shafts of silver down the tossing sea.

Clear nights in autumn are rare for us, but when they do appear they often bring a stillness so complete that even faint stars make paths on the mirroring water; the moon suffuses fog banks with eerie luminosity.

The darkest hours draw me downstairs and outside onto the deck to soak in the silvery light. The undulating water gives birth to tides that creep soundlessly up and down the beach, bringing strange gifts, or reclaiming their own. Tonight I watch the rising water drown a scrap-wood fire in slow motion. A tug rumbles down Favorite Channel, its thrumming diesels somehow magnifying the silence. Wisps of cloud intersperse the stars, and in the last half hour it has become sharply colder.

The spread silk before me is shadowed with reflections of low hills and newly dusted peaks rising in the west. Somewhere to the south a whale breathes slowly and deeply. Fog blown from its valley by the glacier's perpetual cold breath trails white scarves out of Fritz Cove; her filmy progress will, by morning, obliterate everything in white.

Light: the light graph is very steep. As the earth leans hard on its axis we lose an hour of light every twelve days. As the gloom seeps over the brooding, mist-scarved mountains, it is hard to imagine that the light’s dying will ever be reversed, that it will return as rapidly as it is disappearing. The pounding rain soaks the earth and its inhabitants with insidious messages of doom, decay, despair: perhaps the earth will tilt too far....

You have to love rain to live here, and the dark.


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